“You‘d better bring you’re ‘A’ game every time you play in this league regardless of where you’re playing,” said head coach Nick Saban. “Florida is an outstanding team. They probably have a record of dominance more than any other team in our league… this is a good of a team as we’ve played all year.”
The 2010 team had better hit the field on all cylinders.
But is this matchup evolving past the point of healthy competition and into a full-blown rivalry? According to the players, they wouldn’t call Florida any more than a worthy adversary.
“We have to take every game as it is and play it to the best of our abilities,” said sophomore safety Robert Lester, who is an SEC Player of the Week for his performance against Arkansas. “They’re undefeated and we just have to prepare as much as we can to stop them.”
There is a since of urgency to prepare in this week’s practice for the faceoff with the Gators on Saturday that not only coach Saban understands, but the whole team realizes wholeheartedly.
When it comes to the competition itself, players agree that the Gators will come to Tuscaloosa hungry for a win.
“I just remember the year they beat us,” junior running back Mark Ingram said. “All we could think about was just getting back in the game and playing them again. I’m sure they’ve had the same type of attitude since we beat them. It’s going to be a really tough game, and it’s going to be a challenge.”
One challenging aspect of this weekend’s game wasn’t there a week ago. The emergence of Florida freshman quarterback Trey Burton, who broke Tim Tebow’s school record by scoring six touchdowns last week (5 rush, 1 receiving), looks to continue to be a major threat to any team that stands in the Gators’ way.
“It’s not a running back playing quarterback, he can throw the ball,” Saban said of Burton. “He’s doing some of the quarterback-run stuff that Tebow used to do.”
The loss of Tebow hasn’t seemed to slow them down one bit. They are currently undefeated with two SEC wins under their belts after the introduction of starting quarterback John Brantley to his new position. This dynamic two-quarterback system makes the Florida offense all the more dangerous for the Tide.
“It’s not about what our opponents do; it’s about what we do,” senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. “We’re going to go out there and execute to the best of our ability every week. The approach [to Florida] is relatively similar, you know, but the most important game is the next game.”
In the past two seasons, Alabama has only faced Florida in the SEC championship game in December. This year, the Tide could possibly find itself facing the Gators twice a single season.
“We’ve never really had an opponent that we’ve had to play twice in one season,” McElroy said. “Obviously it’s something that we’re going to have to prepare for, hopefully, should we be given the opportunity to get back to the SEC Championship game.”
Offensive lineman Barrett Jones said, “We have a lot of great opponents on our schedule, but Florida jumps out because we’ve had such intense games over the past few years.”
Going back and forth with the Gators could be the reason why rivalry rumors have erupted.
“We did win last year, but at the same time we can’t just be satisfied with that,” said sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones. Jones also said that the loss to Florida two years ago was a driving force behind the Tide’s success in the 2009 SEC Championship game back at the Georgia Dome.
This emerging contention differs from past Alabama rivals because of the level of game play. The Tides in-state rival, Auburn University, has not been a serious threat to Alabama’s championship participation in more than two years.
Both Alabama and Florida hold astounding numbers in their championship records and both teams will come in hungry for another “W” to add to their stat book.
“It’s a standard we want to play to here,” Saban said. “It doesn’t really matter the names on the back of the jerseys. The names change and the numbers change, but the standard never does.”